by Benjamin C. Jones | RGS & AWS President & CEO
Like many of you, I love to see habitat improvement – crews working in the woods, logs going to market and young forest springing up to support wildlife. The ability to get our hands dirty drives all of us at RGS & AWS. With that said, there’s an equally important part of our work that often takes us far from the woods.
The past several months have highlighted the importance of RGS & AWS’s seat at the policy table. It seems everything is in a state of flux economically and societally and of course, there are always pressures on natural resources. More than ever, the conservation community needs commonsense practitioners speaking on behalf of forest wildlife. We have to remain diligent with a comprehensive approach. The summer of 2022 provided a good example.
On June 23, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a Secretary’s Memorandum entitled Climate Resilience and Carbon Stewardship of America’s National Forests and Grasslands. We held our breath. There were several directions this could go, and a few could fall into the not-so-good category. However, we were pleased, in general, that the memo recognized the importance of active forest management while seeking balance among carbon, wildlife, watersheds, wood products and recreation. There were positive points to work from, and we were ready to lend our voice to support management.
Just a month later, as an offshoot of the memo, a request for information (RFI) was posted in the Federal Register seeking a standard definition for “old growth and mature forest.” It wasn’t hard to imagine how an overly broad classification of old growth could hinder habitat management. It would be essential for RGS & AWS to provide strong comments to the RFI and navigate the process with our Forest Service partners.
Over the next four weeks, RGS & AWS forest conservation directors amassed scientific documentation on how forests of all ages, not just old growth, are vital for forest health, carbon sequestration and wildlife habitat. Meanwhile, I worked with American Wildlife Conservation Partners (AWCP) to gain support from other conservation groups. AWCP is a consortium of 50 organizations (including RGS & AWS) that represent America’s hunters, professional natural resources managers, outdoor recreationists, conservation educators and wildlife scientists.
The result was a set of strong statements in support of forest management. The RGS & AWS internal comments gave 12 pages of science-based testimony warning against definitions of old growth that could preclude management needed to keep forests healthy. The AWCP submission did the same, while combining your voice as an RGS & AWS member with those of millions of other hunter-conservationists. (See this issue’s Voice column on page 42 for the full AWCP letter.) This debate is far from over, and phase II of the RFI process is scheduled for April 2023. I can’t tell you for certain how this will pan out. However, I can tell you that it would have been a very different discussion without RGS & AWS taking a lead role and lending our voices, and that we will keep our seat at the policy table, far from the woods.